This past Tuesday, Kingdom Hearts 3 was finally released. Perhaps the biggest case of blue balls in gaming history, myself, like many otaku around the world, had waited quite impatiently while Tetsuya Nomura and his team at Square-Enix took over a decade (13 years to be precise) to release the final installment of the beloved Disney/Square mashup. I’d been playing Kingdom Hearts since the beginning and was primed to dive right into this beautiful-looking opus.
Then Masahiro Sakurai said, “Hold my saki.”
That very same night, Nintendo announced that Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was being patched to version 2.0 and bringing the first downloadable character to the roster: Piranha Plant.
I immediately forgot I had Kingdom Hearts 3.
It’s a big deal whenever a new fighter joins the roster of Smash. An event unto itself. This little guy felt different though. His announcement was marred by division and disappointment by many in the Smash community. What about Geno? Wait, no Banjo or Dixie Kong? They chose Piranha Plant instead?!
On November 1st, 2018 an Ultimate themed Nintendo Direct laid out the final unannounced content and fighters in the roster. Ken from Street Fighter and Incineroar from Pokemon were confirmed to be the last two new fighters.
Hmm, this can’t be it. There has to be at least one more special fighter that Sakurai’s saving for the very end…
I’d thought this for a long time. It’s not Sakurai’s style to end an event without fanfare. I knew that if I waited until the end of the Direct he’d say something like, Oh, and there’s one more thing I’d like to announce…and then BAM! Geno finally joins Smash Bros. Or something like that.
We did not get Geno, but Sakurai did have a surprise lined up for us. At the very end of the Direct the DLC plan for Ultimate was announced, and Piranha Plant would be the first downloadable fighter available to supplement the game’s already overstuffed roster. He would be free for people who purchased the game and registered their copy with Nintendo before January 31st.
A free fighter. A little extra bonus character for purchasing the game early.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. I was disappointed, but not in Piranha Plant itself. I was expecting more, perhaps some corporate synergy between Nintendo and a popular third party that was allowing them to include one of their flagship characters in Smash. Another Final Fantasy character, or maybe somebody from Ubisoft. Nintendo and Ubisoft are all cozy together now, right?
I think what blindsided so many Smash fans was the fact that for the first time a grunt character, essentially a minion baddie, was being turned into a fully-fledged fighter. I don’t think any of us saw that coming, though should we have been so surprised? Each Smash title has at least one WTF character, somebody you’d never think would be included in Smash. Melee had Pichu, Brawl had R.O.B. the Robot and Smash for 3DS/Wii U had Duck Hunt Dog.
Sakurai defends his choice in the latest issue of the Japan-only magazine Nintendo Dream when he says, “There really isn’t any unique appeal to a game where it’s just a lineup of heroes. Since it was a bonus character, my options were relatively open. In terms of “marketable” characters, Piranha Plant is just one of them – there are plenty of others. If you spin it as a bonus character though, there’s a lot you can do with it.”
Sakurai knew there would be some backlash for including Piranha Plant as a playable fighter, so he tried to spin it as a little bonus.
That’s the thing though: Piranha Plant does not feel like an extra little bonus fighter. Like everything else included in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, my expectations were blown away. Piranha Plant is a fully fleshed-out fighter, and like every fighter in Smash he (or she?) is seeped in references to all the games it’s appeared in.
My initial thoughts on Piranha Plant were positive. He plays somewhat differently than the rest of the roster, focusing on zoning other fighters via his neutral special, Ptooie. Piranha Plant spits a spiked ball up into the air (what my friends and I affectionately refer to as a ‘gonzo ball’) and can hold it there. This alone can make your opponent re-think his approach. The ball can be shot to the left, right or straight up to various distances depending on when you release the B button. Catch somebody by surprise by launching it across the stage or protect yourself by letting it drop close by.
The gonzo ball is not to be trifled with: it’s incredibly powerful. Not only is it a devastating attack but it’s a great way to zone your opponent and make them think twice about getting close to you. Ptooie is best used when Piranha Plant is directly below its opponent. Regardless of what you may have heard, having the high ground isn’t everything.
However, Ptooie has a downside. Piranha Plant can only have one of these bad boys out at a time, and if you try to summon another while one is already on the field you’ll be left wide open and vulnerable to punishment.
Piranha Plant’s down special, Long-Stem Strike, is another tool for zoning your opponent into a defensive position. If you hold down and B, Piranha Plant will retreat downward into his little pot: this charges up the attack. When the button is released, or when the attack is fully charged, Piranha Plant shoots forward in the player’s chosen direction. He gets super armor while charging this move but it disappears as soon as you stop charging. Use this move in tandem with his neutral special and you can make life a living hell for your opponent.
Once you get the hand of Ptooie and use it in tandem with Piranha Plant’s other moves, particularly his down special Long-Stem Strike, you’ll be able to drive your opponents insane. I can almost feel their frustration as I alternate between Ptooie and Long-Stem Strike, making them think that there’s no safe way to approach me.
Truly, gaming’s greatest troll character. (he’s a potted plant for God’s sake!)
Piranha Plant’s side special spits out a cloud of poison. The strength of the poison can be increased by charging it up before you spit it out. When at full charge, the poison can deal anywhere between 30 and 50% damage. That’s quite a lot, but takes some time to learn how to use it effectively.
Out of all Piranha Plant’s moves I seem to have the most trouble using the poison cloud effectively. Getting it into a strategic position to deal the most damage is difficult. I like to use it as cover, charging Long-Stem Strike while concealed amongst the purple cloud and surprising my opponent by lunging out with an extended, devastating strike.
Speaking of well-timed devastating strikes, Piranha Plant’s moveset (like all of the fighters in Smash) captures the essence of the character. Retracting into the pot and waiting for the right moment to strike with a big ass CHOMP! just feels like what it would be to be a piranha plant.
Sakurai can no longer say that a character is “not suited for battle” as he did for Villager while developing Brawl. If he can successfully give Piranha Plant a varied and interesting moveset, especially one that is viable in tournament play, he can make a fighter out of anybody.
Other Smash moveset staples such as a down air meteor smash, a down smash sweep attack and an up special that covers immense distance for recovery and you’ve got yourself one pesky little monster. He’s not OP by any means, (I actually don’t think there is any one really bad or really good fighter in this roster as it’s almost eighty fighters strong, only good and bad matchups between fighters) but if played with a small amount of patience you can really piss off your friends or random challengers in the game’s stellar online mode.
I choose which characters I play as in Smash based on my affinity for that character or the series they come from. Donkey Kong, Mewtwo, Mega Man and King K. Rool all have a special place in my heart. I’ve been playing Mario since I was four years old, the very first video game I have memories playing. It only makes sense that I pick up Piranha Plant, adding him to my very small and exclusive repertoire of mains.
In terms of being recognizable, yes, I think Piranha Plant is widely known. Those pesky veggies have been making Mario’s life hell since ’85, and let’s all agree on this one point: piranha plants are probably the most annoying Mario baddies out there. They’re pretty fierce and appear in every single Mario game in some capacity. Watching them wither into nothing after being hit by an egg in Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island is one of the more satisfying baddie deaths in any 2D sidescroller. Burn in hell, vile weed!
I have Paper Mario pajama bottoms that have piranha plants on them. One of my pillows, which I sleep on every night, is decorated with artwork of Mario, Luigi, and of course, a piranha plant. Sakurai is right: piranha plants are immediately recognizable, and if you don’t think so there’s a hidden easter egg that might change your mind. When playing as Pit the player can trigger what’s called “Palutena’s Guidance”. A dialogue box appears at the bottom of the screen and Pit begins to converse with Palutena about the opponent Pit is up against. These conversations are typically focused on how the opponent fighter fights and their backstory, such as the games they originated from. Sometimes other characters from the Kid Icarus series show up such as Viridi, the goddess of nature, or Hades, the god of the underworld.
For Piranha Plant’s Palutena’s Guidance Viridi commandeers the conversation and begins to list all the different species of piranha plant that have appeared in Mario games over the years. She lists more than fifty species. Think that just because Piranha Plant is a grunt character he’s not well-known? Think again!
If you’ve been sleeping on Piranha Plant, don’t. Those that purchased and registered their game before January 31st can download him for free from the Nintendo eShop. For everybody else he’ll set you back $6.
Money. Well. Spent.
Extra: Before Ultimate released, I wrote Shakespearean sonnets for each fighter. Here’s the one I did for Piranha Plant:
What the hell is this? Is it April 1st?
Weebs across the world raised a mournful cry.
None could have foreseen all their dreams would burst,
Evading even Nostradamus’ eye.
Normal plants enjoy the taste of sunlight,
But this plant only likes the taste of blood.
Some saw this surprise as a sinful sleight,
Collective tears bring forth a salty flood.
Props to anyone who saw this coming,
We didn’t have our eyes set on left field.
Living in the pipes of fungus’ plumbing,
‘Til Papa Sak said he should be revealed.
An extra little bonus, nothing more,
Here, take an ice pack if your butt feels sore.